Malawi – the warm heart of Africa. And Rod Stewart.

Labels such as these (the first part at least) are created by marketing teams to promote destinations, often in a nice office thousands of miles from the country in question. This one however is certainly apt. The openness, warmth and ubiquitous smiles we encountered in Malawi were a joy to experience. We did indeed experience the warm heart of this beautiful country

Malawi is one of the poorest nations in Africa, and like so many of its neighbours its population is ravaged by HIV/AIDS and the social and economic impact of the disease affects almost every aspect of life. The hardship that people face is evident, and some of the better trodden tourist paths in the country bring you face to face with this. Hiking up Mount Mulanje, you not only see the beautiful landscapes and flora of the slopes and summit, but you will be competing for the narrow and unsteady footpaths with men who are carrying logs down the mountain at a very fast pace. It is incredibly physical work for a pittance, and two of us guys struggled to even lift a log off the ground briefly. Yet the men didn’t fail to smile and greet us on our way.

The waters of Lake Malawi are so inviting, especially on a hot day. You need to be mindful of the risks of bilharzia however, and choose your bathing spot with caution. Safaris might not produce the same game viewing opportunities as South African or Kenyan parks, but they were memorable for their informal hospitality, ruggedness and the ability to have a “real” safari experience (for real, read very basic tent and self-fill shower).

The memory that will forever stand out for me is from a village on the lake by the name of Salima Bay. We had hiked through the long grass for an hour or so, when in the distance we heard music. As we got closer we found a building standing on stilts above a reed marsh. From the top of the building we could hear the incongruous sounds of Rod Stewart blaring out, and spotted some revellers drinking beer. Sure enough, it was to be the place where we shared (too) many drinks and enjoyed a stunning sunset while listening to a continuos loop of Rod Stewart music.

13 years on and I can’t hear his songs without my memory transporting me back to that surreal experience in Salima Bay. I wonder if the bar is still there!

(Dec 1995) Link to Malawi Tourism

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Freelance travel writer

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